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A Golden Spotlight on Cal vs. Oregon

Oregon is a legit playoff contender and Marcus Mariota lives up to the Heisman talk, but one thing is becoming clear; this year's version of your sturdy Golden Bears won't roll over for anyone.

Leonard Chong

A reader tweeted at me a request to compare special teams under Alamar vs. Tommerdahl.  It's like comparing an ulcer to pancreatitis.  Gut pain, whimpering, fetal position, and no real idea of why, what, or will it go away.

It's hard to do film review on special teams because the available views on video are limited.  My pet theory is that baseline ST play reflects a team's depth.  If we're throwing walk-on converted receivers out there at safety, then it means we have no depth and our coverage units will suffer accordingly.

When previewing the season, I wrote:  "6) Special teams play will remain uneven. Unlike a well-established program, we simply don't have enough experienced depth yet for our twos and threes to be formidable in their own right. Here's where the linebacker attrition and recruiting whiffs at safety hurt."

Clearly, there are adequate special teams coaches and great ones.  Hard to say where Alamar or Tommerdahl fall in that spectrum because we also don't know how much time is allotted during practice to focus on this phase of the game.  But for all the hand-wringing over Alamar's coverage issues at Cal, he seems to have done okay w/ Furd players.  Could be a reflection of their depth, or it could be because Coach Shaw doesn't spend any time practicing offense.

With a young team, I'd be willing to give a grudging pass to Tommerdahl for coverage woes.  But burning timeouts for having 10 or 12 men on the field?  Inexecusable.  We're halfway through the season.  Get it together already.

Sad as it is, comparing special teams' play does give a snapshot into the present divide between Cal and Oregon.  They're at a different level for now.  But as head football writer, Nam Le, would say:  Expect us.  We're coming.

Speaking of snapshots, the title photo was taken by my father from the sidelines.  If you'd like to see the rest of his gallery, they're available to see here.:

UW and UCLA played a lot of Cover 2 w/ deep safeties to stop Cal's deep ball.  So Dykes & Franklin devised a new wrinkle for this game.  It's a 2x2 set, but the receivers are stacked.  I suppose the official name is probably something creative, like Stacks.  But we'll call it the Mighty Wingman.  For most of the drive, Cal's receivers have been running short patterns out of this look with combinations of out and stick routes.


The receivers at the top run the go and out that Oregon has seen already.  But at the bottom, Treggs stays on Harper's heels...just like a mighty wingman.  Khalfani releases from the backfield and draws coverage from their MLB.


Apologies for the blurriness.  I blame Oregon's uniforms.  But this was the only shot that showed how the routes from the outside receivers drew off safety coverage, Khalfani sucked up the MLB, and that left a hole in the zone for Treggs on the deep post.


Treggs makes the catch and sets Cal up in the red zone.


We used this same look later in the half but with a different wrinkle.  Cal goes 2x2 Mighty Wingman, while Oregon looks to be in a Cover 2.


This time, it's the inside receivers that run out routes, while the outside receivers go deep.  It's essentially a smash concept while using the stacked formation to confuse the defense.  Oregon's corner has to come off Harper and stay on flat coverage.  Meanwhile, Harper sets their safety up with a post-corner route.


And that's all the daylight Goff needs to set Cal up in the red zone again.  Roll on you Bears.


Cal goes Stacks/Mighty Wingman again, but this time have Rubenzer in at QB.  Oregon has been stung from this passing formation, so still have two deep safeties with only six box defenders.


At the snap, Cal leaves both top-screen defenders unblocked.  They stand there, wondering who smoked it all...meanwhile, Crosthwaithe pulls and Lasco moves past the fake handoff to act as a lead blocker.


Cal already had a 7 on 6 numbers advantage. By ignoring the top two defenders, this turns into an overwhelming advantage at the point of attack.  Borrayo combos their DL and heads to the 2nd level.  Crosthwaite and Lasco are out in front...


...And it's all clear, kid.  Luke bursts from the scrum with a free run to party in the end zone.  Touchdown Bears!


It's another new look from your sturdy Golden Bears.  Head Football writer Nam Le demanded that I cover this formation, and I am happy to comply.  They come out with a seven man line using Farley (#59) and Aaron Cochran (#74) on the line as tight ends.  Big Vic Enwere #23 is lined up in the Pistol.  Insert over-used cliche about the Bear Raid being pass-only right about now.


Cal has a 7-4 edge at the line, but still pulls Crosthwaite.  Meanwhile, Adcock and Farley are free to move to the 2nd level.


The extra blockers wipe out the Oregon LBs and Crosthwaite takes out the slot defender.  Enwere has an open running lane.


He gets hit by three Ducks and should be taken down at the five...


...except Notorious VIC breaks three tackles, regains his balance w/ a nifty spin, and lunges to take it to the house.  Touchdown Bears!


Switching back to the other side, the beleaguered Cal D is facing all-everything QB Mariota and the potent Duck offense on an always-critical third down.  Oregon has twin backs while Cal looks to be in a Cover 3.


At the snap, Lopa (#75) stunts while Barton rushes off the edge.  Kaufman liked stunts at his previous stints, but hasn't shown them much while at Cal.


Barton evades their left tackle, Kelly bull-rushes past their tackle, and Lopa's stunt has him fill the A gap.  Oregon's tailback finds himself facing three angry Bears in the backfield and no porridge to buy them off.


TFL and punt time.  Rumor has it, Oregon's pot-bellied punter had to leave the hot dog stand and put on his jersey.


Cal just got jobbed by the refs and somehow fumbled a pass that flew 10 yards forward.  Undaunted, Cal comes out in what looks like quarters coverage against a trips Duck formation.


Trips is a hard formation to defend because the receivers can diverge in ways to pick off man coverage.  The Ducks use the outside receivers to run post/corner, respectively, while their middle receiver goes with a short out.


Pre-snap, Cal looks like it rotated into a Cover 3.  The safety, corner, and LB pick their men up without hesitation and have them blanketed.  It's basic coverage, but executed precisely.  Meanwhile, Nickerson checks their back and comes on a delayed Green Dog blitz.  On a green dog, the linebacker will play coverage if the back releases, and will rush if the back stays in pass pro.


With the receivers blanketed, Nickerson bulls his way past their back and gets to Mariota.  Mr. Universe is forced to throw it away and settle for a field goal attempt.


It seems like Cal hasn't been able to defend the zone-read in...well ever.  Here we are in a base 4-3 nickel in what looks like Cover 3.  Oregon goes 2x1 w/ one tight end and one tailback.


At the snap, Mariota reads Kearney (#30) who stays home.  This forces Mariota to hand it off.


Kearney responds instantly and flies down the line to make the tackle.  It's a fantastic display of instinct, speed, and athleticism to play the zone-read perfectly.


With Kearney clinging to their tailback, Lowe is able to fill from his safety position and strips the ball.  He fields it on the bounce...


...and returns it to first and goal.  They know they're punching above their weight class, but this is a Cal D that refuses to quit.


If pass defense is 75% pass rush, then we're admittedly behind the 8-ball right now.  But the bar was set at "competitive" for this year, and you can't deny that your Bears have shown up.  The Bear Raid 2.0 has been as advertised and more.  And for the discerning fan, it's clear that the defense has improved. More importantly, this is a team that's easy to pull for.  They're well-spoken, humble, and work hard.  Split the remaining games, and we could go bowling.  After last year, that's nearly inconceivable.  Let's start by hunting some Beaver.  Go Bears!